They’re called sidekicks. They play second fiddle, but some secondary characters are as memorable as the protagonists they support. In fact, well-drawn supporting characters are a hallmark of exceptional novels.
While reading Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch,” I found Boris, a secondary character, so compelling that I began to create the list below. If you haven’t read these novels, I highly recommend them. If you write fiction, the biggest takeaway from the list below is you have to develop your secondary characters with as much care as your hero and heroine.
9 Memorable Secondary Characters
#1 Boris Pavlikovsky, “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt
Theo Decker’s best friend is a street-savvy, funny, and charming Russian who has no qualms stealing, lying, and getting involved with criminals. Boris is bad news from the start, but he’s also a loyal and caring friend. He gets Theo in serious trouble but he also saves him.
#2 Jack Cole, “Sideways” by Rex Pickett
Jack, like Boris, is a classic sidekick as the best friend of the protagonist. Like Boris, Jack gets Miles in trouble but manages to redeem himself and even strengthen their friendship.
#3 Ruby, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Strong-willed Ruby, who starts out as the help, eventually becomes Ada’s trusted friend who teaches her practical lessons about day-to-day life.
#4 Charlotte Bartlett, “A Room with a View” by E.M. Forster
Charlotte, a spinster, chaperones her young cousin, Lucy Honeychurch, during a fortuitous trip to Tuscany. Her old-fashioned ways hinder Lucy’s romance with George Emerson, but she helps them in the end.
#5 Phoebe, “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger
Holden Caulfield says Phoebe, his 10-year-old sister, is the smartest kid ever. Indeed she proves it when Holden says he wants to be the catcher in the rye just like in the song. Phoebe corrects him and says it’s not a song but a poem by Robert Burns. She’s a sensitive and affectionate little girl; she may be the only person who understands Holden.
#6 Mrs. Bennet, “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
Elizabeth Bennet’s mother is impossible to ignore. She is the loudest character in this novel. Her mission in life: to marry off her daughters.
#7 Boo Radley, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
Boo, a recluse, lives next door to Scout and Jem Finch. Nobody has seen him in years. The kids in the neighborhood are mystified and at the same time scared of him.
#8 Minny, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett
Who can forget Minny’s “Terrible Awful” pie? It’s as memorable as the sassy Minny herself. Though she plays second fiddle to her friend, Aibileen, she steals the show more than once.
#9 Dutchy, “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline
Niamph (pronounced Neeve) Power meets Dutchy on the “orphan train” when they were children. They promise to find each other in the future. They end up marrying each other many years later.
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